Many in Boston with Northland connections describe shock after Monday’s explosionsSome were close enough to see it. Others could hear it a few blocks away. Even those in Cambridge, the next town over across the river, were affected by it.
By: Kevin Pates and Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune
Some were close enough to see it. Others could hear it a few blocks away. Even those in Cambridge, the next town over across the river, were affected by it.
Like thousands of others in Boston, those with Northland connections experienced firsthand the trauma of the bombings at the Boston Marathon on Monday.
“I saw it happen,” Leah Pustovar, 28, a 2002 Duluth Marshall graduate now living in Stillwater, Minn., told the News Tribune.
“I happened to be looking back and saw the first explosion go off. In less than 30 seconds, I saw the second one. I saw the huge cloud of gray smoke from both of them.”
Pustovar, who has run 12 marathons, had crossed the finish line just minutes before the first bomb detonated.
She was collecting her finisher’s medal and warm-up clothing, when the first blast occurred, Pustovar said.
“It was loud. Immediately, I knew something was wrong. It wasn’t normal.”
Pustovar’s father, Duluth’s Tom Pustovar, and sister, Gina Hennen of White Bear Lake, Minn., had been just across the street from where the explosions occurred, Leah Pustovar said. But they had walked about a block away before the explosions happened.
After the race, the three had been texting each other to try to find a meeting place.
“I called them as soon as I could,” she said — and her father answered, much to her relief. “Oh, my gosh. It was the best thing ever.”
Video of the explosions:
Duluth’s Patty Wheeler already had been through an emotional morning, watching her daughter, two-time U.S. Olympian Kara Goucher, run in her third Boston Marathon.
After the race, the pair and other family members went to the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel, less than a half-block from the finish line. They were having lunch when two bombs went off — “like a huge cannon,” Wheeler said.
“We just all looked at each other. We knew this was not a good thing. I don’t even have words for what we felt.”
Goucher had placed sixth in the women’s race in 2:28:11, finishing at about noon. The simultaneous explosions occurred just before 3 p.m.
“We immediately went to our (hotel room) window, but it looks out onto a side street and we didn’t really see what had happened,” said Wheeler.
Also in Boston is Goucher’s sister, Kelly Grgas Wheeler of Duluth, and Goucher’s husband, Adam, and son, Colt, 2½.
Wheeler was the only one of the group in a mood to talk of the afternoon’s events.
Grgas Wheeler, a Minnesota Duluth assistant women’s soccer coach, said in a statement:
“When the bombs exploded, it shook the building and was so loud that we knew instantly something had happened that wasn’t normal. Our hotel is extremely secure and went into lockdown (with) no one in or out. The scene outside our hotel is weird and surreal.
“Kara is heartbroken. We are thankful, so very thankful we were all together when it happened. We are also so grateful for all the concern for our entire family.”
Alyza Bohbot grew up in Duluth and attends graduate school in Boston. She was walking out of the Lenox Hotel, a block away from one of the explosions, to meet a friend but went the wrong way, she said. Walking the other way would have taken her toward the bombings.
“We felt the ground shake,” she said after walking 20 minutes home to South Boston. “There was tons of smoke, people running and crying.”
She returned to the hotel, which had gone into lockdown. She said people were told to not use their cell phones because it could be misconstrued as an activator for a bomb.
Deb Schroeder of Duluth watched her son, Doug, of St. Paul, on the sidelines of the race. They were two blocks from the finish line at a restaurant when they heard the explosion.
“It’s a good thing he’s fast,” Schroeder said of her son finishing well before the four-hour mark when the explosions occurred.
She said they knew something was wrong when they started receiving texts from Minnesota asking if they were OK while people rushed down the street.
“All you heard were sirens,” she said of the scenes around Boston.
Duluth’s Rebecca Peterson was beat after making her second-best time running her 25th marathon and fourth Boston. She phoned her husband and told him she wasn’t going to the family meeting area, but to meet her in the Boston Common with their two children.
“That was a little lucky for us,” she said.
The family slowly learned what happened as they walked a few miles to their hotel in Cambridge. What should have been a celebration of Peterson’s good run was lost in the tragic news.
“It deflates the accomplishment,” she said.
As Kari Robertson of Duluth stood less than a mile from the finish line, she remarked to another spectator how safe she felt in a big city.
But less than an hour later, after walking a mile to her room at the Millennium Hotel, she and her husband, Gregg, who ran the race, heard the news.
“It was so surreal,” Kari Robertson said. “I got to the course at 7:30 this morning and there were so many police, on bikes, walking with dogs. I had never seen so many police. You just felt so safe. And then this happened.”
Gregg Robertson, 43, did his first Boston Marathon in 2:49:59. After getting to the finish line, about 1 p.m., he collected his warm-up clothes and talked for about a half hour and didn’t hear the explosions.
“With so many large buildings, the sound was probably muffled. When we first heard about a bombing, we thought it had to do with North Korea,” he said.
Kari added: “Now all we’ve heard are sirens. Nothing but sirens, and you just feel so scared, and feel so bad for those who were involved.”
Glen and Audra Flanagan of Duluth are renting an apartment this week in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. Part of the trip included Glen, 40, running his second marathon. He finished about an hour before the bombs exploded.
He figured to stay in the finish line area for a while to congratulate fellow runners. But cool temperatures led the couple to decide to walk the three-quarters of a mile back to their apartment, where they learned what happened while getting phone calls and texts from friends.
“We watched on TV and thought, ‘I could’ve been there.’ I had just been there. We were shocked,” said Glen Flanagan, a National Guard Master Sergeant with Duluth’s 148th Fighter Wing.
“When we were out walking the last couple of days, the attitude of the people who live here couldn’t have been more friendly,” said Audra Flanagan. “Going out (Monday) afternoon, you could feel things had changed. Everyone is in shock. You could see it in their eyes.”
Warren and Betty Mlaker of Cook got word from their daughter, Megan, that she was OK.
Betty Mlaker said the Duluth woman crossed the finish line about an hour before the explosions occurred. Her mother’s voice cracked thinking about what she is going through.
“Horrible, horrible,” she said. “It’s chaos. It’s such a once-in-a-lifetime event and then to have this happen.”
From Cambridge, Mass., Harvard student Caitlin Pendleton of Superior wrote: “Harvard Yard is on lockdown and there are bomb threats by the Harvard Kennedy School and Institute of Politics (which are both being evacuated right now) — ‘panic’ is the most relevant word.”
Evening classes were canceled at the university, Pendleton and fellow student Garrett Maron of Duluth reported.
Bauer LeSavage of Duluth is a student at Boston University, which fronts the final leg of the race.
“I am in my dorm at Boston University, which is right near Kenmore Square,” LeSavage wrote. “The university has sent out many alerts telling everyone to get back to their dorms to be safe, and we are waiting on more information.”
Not long after the explosions, Duluth runner Dave Antonson posted on his Facebook page: “Everybody who is lookn for me, I’m in Boston and okay. My text messages aren’t sending. Hope the best for all the runners and fans.”
He later told the News Tribune he was a block over on Newbury Street, about three blocks from the finish line.
“I was walking back to Hereford Street to cheer for my cousin. I heard the first explosion and knew something was wrong. After the second explosion, I saw people running and smoke rise over the buildings and in the street,” he said.
“It was a chaotic scene, more than one would ever want to imagine. The Boston Police Department and medical professionals are amazing as I watched them race to the scene.”
Like Antonson, David Beeksma of Ashland also posted a Facebook message to his friends.
“I need to tag that we are safe. Joe Zant, Kathy Fagin Beeksma, Joyce Beeksma safe and sound and just heartbroken for those impacted. Sucks!”
Later, Beeksma wrote the News Tribune:
“Myself and another runner from Ashland (Northland College), Joe Zant, were not there when all of this happened. We had left, took the subway to another part of town for food and when we had finished eating we went to get back on the subway and found we were not allowed and were told that something bad had happened.
“We had to walk about three miles to our car and really had no idea what was going on but we heard sirens all over the place and emergency vehicles racing through town,” he continued. “Once we got to our car and began to drive out of town we were able to get the news and the scope of the situation on the radio.
“Up until this tragedy, it was a perfect day. Such a wonderful event that celebrates human love and care for each other. It was a great day until this happened. We are sickened and heartbroken thinking about those who were impacted by this.”
Marshall School graduate KJ Reich said she was about a mile and a half away from the explosion at the research facility associated with Massachusetts General Hospital, where she works.
“I heard the sirens of several ambulances arriving at the ER at once. This is somewhat unusual to see so many at one time,” she said. “That’s when I started to receive texts from family out of town. And I discovered on Facebook what had happened.
“I walked down Cambridge Street in front of the hospital. I passed several marathon runners who appeared to be somewhere on the spectrum between fatigued and a little shaken to completely shell-shocked.”
Duluth City Attorney Gunnar Johnson said runner and assistant city attorney Steve Hanke told him he was safe.
News Tribune staff members Sam Cook, Jana Hollingsworth, Robin Washington and Georgia Swing contributed to this report.